Tom Diaz

MORE EXPLAINING TO DO — IS THROWING A GANG SIGN EVER JUST A JOKE?

In Crime, Gangs, Informants and other sophisticated means, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Latino gangs, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime, undercover investigations on August 25, 2009 at 6:24 pm
Alexander (Alex) Sanchez (AKA "Rebelde") Throwing Devils Horns Gang Sign

Alexander (Alex) Sanchez (AKA "Rebelde"), Left, Throwing Devil's Horns Gang Sign in 1999

The two men in the picture above could be fans of the University of Texas Longhorns.

Like the two men in the picture below — former President George W. Bush and University of Texas strength and conditioning coach Jeff “Mad Dog” Madden –  they could be expressing support for the University of Texas Longhorns football team by flashing the famous “hook ‘em horns” sign.

George_W._Bush_and_Jeff_Mad_Dog_Madden

President George W. Bush and University of Texas Coach Jeff "Mad Dog" Madden Flash "Hook 'Em Horns" Sign

Or not.

DR.JEKYLL_AND_MR.HYDE___31_The man on the left in the photo at the top of this post, Alexander (“Alex”) Sanchez, also known as “Rebelde” according to the government, is accused in a federal racketeering (RICO) indictment of  being a sort of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde — saintly “anti-gang activist” by day, foul-mouthed, murder-conspiring boss (shot-caller) of the transnational MS-13 gang by night.  (“Rebelde” means “rebellious” when used as an adjective, and “rebel” when used as a noun.)

Here is how a government pleading in the criminal case sums up this aspect of the charges against Sanchez:

Sanchez is alleged to have been an influential leader, known as a shotcaller, of the Normandie clique of Mara Salvatrucha since the mid-1990s. In that role, which he never abandoned despite working at the anti-gang organization Homies Unidos, he profited from the gang’s narcotics trafficking and regular extortion rackets.

But what about the photo of Sanchez at the Golden Gate Bridge?  The following paragraphs come right after the same government pleading’s discussion of the contents of international wiretaps of Sanchez that were described in the last posting of Fairly Civil:

The government has also recovered photographic evidence of Sanchez’s double life during the execution of search warrants in 2001 and 2003.  For example, FBI agents executing a search warrant at the home of Rebecca Quezada, aka “Laughing Girl,” in February 2001 recovered two photographs of Sanchez that provide further physical evidence of Sanchez’s ongoing participation in MS-13 while working at Homies Unidos. (A copy of the two photographs are attached as Exhibit C).

In the first photograph, which was found on a 2000 calendar that featured a poem by Sanchez, Sanchez is depicted in his public role, standing in front of the Golden Gate Bridge with two other men at an anti-gang conference in San Francisco in 1999.  In the second photograph agents recovered [the one posted above], however, Sanchez is standing in the same spot in front of the Golden Gate Bridge in the same clothing with one of the same men on what is clearly the same occasion.  In the second photo, however, Sanchez and the other man are displaying the hand sign for MS-13.  This hand gesture, which is frequently encountered by law enforcement in photographs of and drawing and graffiti by MS-13 members, is universally recognized as the gang sign for MS-13 and is never made in peace.  This photograph, along with numerous other photographs showing Sanchez at parties with leaders of MS-13, are physical evidence that Sanchez has never renounced his membership in MS-13.

Government’s Response to Defendant Alex Sanchez’s Motion for Pretrial Release, U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Docket No. CR-09-466-MLR.

This photograph of the “anti-gang worker” throwing the MS-13 gang sign long after his supposed “conversion” suggests that Alex Sanchez has more explaining to do.  Is he is is, is was, or is ain’t? (Or, for another version of the same old song, try this link.)

Here, for example, are MS-13 gang members in Central America “throwing” the infamous gang sign, which is known as the devil’s horns:

MS-13 Gangsters Flash Devil's Horns

MS-13 Gangsters Flash Devil's Horns

Here are some other instances of the MS-13 gang sign being recorded in public.  (“Fool’s names and dog’s faces often appear in public places.”)

MS-13 Gangsters "Throwing" Devil's Horn Gang Sign

MS-13 Gangsters "Throwing" Devil's Horn Gang Sign

MS-13 Graffiti Incorporates Devil's Horn and "Crossing Out" of Number 18, Showing Disrespect for Rival 18th Street gang

MS-13 Graffiti Incorporates Devil's Horn and "Crossing Out" of Number 18, Showing Disrespect for Rival 18th Street gang

It’s interesting to note that Sanchez and the other man (who appears to be identified as “Laughing Boy” in an inscription that accompanies the second photo) are flashing the gang sign right in the heart of Norteno country, the Northern California territory over which the prison gang Nuestra Familia claims sovereignty.  Most Latino street gangs in Northern California acknowledge fealty to Nuestra Familia, describe themselves as generically “Nortenos,” and affect the number “14″ (for “N,” the 14th letter of the alphabet) — or combinations of numbers totaling 14 — in clothing and graffiti.

Southern California gangs like MS-13 are with few exceptions loyal to EME (Spanish for the letter “M”), the Mexican Mafia.  (The 13 in MS-13 signifies the gang’s public expression of fealty to EME, the 13th letter of the alphabet.)

Nuestra Familia and EME have been at war for decades after a failed attempt at union.  Likewise, Sureno gangs loyal to the Mexican Mafia (EME) are at ceaseless war with Nuestra Familia’s Norteno gangs.

“Tom Diaz has worn out some shoe leather—much like a good detective—in gathering facts, not myths or urban legend. “

—Chris Swecker, Former Assistant Director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division.

“Few people know more about the subject than Tom Diaz and no single book tells the whole story better than No Boundaries. If you really want to know what organized crime in America looks like today, then read this alarming book.”

—Rocky Delgadillo, former City Attorney of Los Angeles

Order No Boundaries from Amazon.com

Depending on the planet upon which one spends most of one’s time, one might argue that (a) Sanchez and his friend are not throwing a gang sign but are UT fans like George W. Bush,  (b) are just horsing around, mocking the old life, or (c) the FBI created the picture in a laboratory in Area 51.

But “just goofing around” with their hand sign is not something gangsters are likely to tolerate.  FBI analyst Don Lyddane wrote about the following cautionary incident in an edition of the United States Attorneys’ Bulletin devoted to gang prosecutions:

Several years ago, a young lady attended a dance-concert in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She enjoyed the band so much that she leaped onto the stage to dance with the band. While dancing she gestured in sign language, “I love you,” over and over. She did not realize that her gestures were almost identical to the Latin King hand sign. Several Latin King members who were on the dance floor observed her “I love you” gesture and perceived it as a blatant disrespect to the Latin King and Queen Nation. She surely did not realize that they planned to kill her. Her innocent gestures cost this woman her life. Her murder was subsequently solved as part of a gang conspiracy investigation of the Latin Kings by the FBI Safe Streets Task Force in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Donald Lyddane, Intelligence Analyst, Safe Streets and Gang Unit, FBI Headquarters, “Gangs and Gang Mentality: Acquiring Evidence of the Gang Conspiracy,” in United States Attorneys’ Bulletin, May 2006.

HOW COULD THIS BE?

Sanchez’s supporters flatly reject the government’s claim that he has been a secret shot-caller.

Funny, CIA Agent Aldrich Ames Didn't Look Like a Russian Mole

Funny, CIA Agent Aldrich Ames Didn't Look Like a Russian Mole

This is to be expected.  Revelations of double lives understandably evoke responses from those who have been gulled along the lines of, “There must be a mistake (or a plot) because this just can’t be true.  I’ve known so-and-so for X-number of years, and I never saw any sign of anything like that.  I know his good works and they show he is a good man — he would never do a bad thing.”

And yet recent history offers numerous examples of persons who led truly shocking double lives, including double agent spies, con men in the financial world, and even other boldly duplicitous “anti-gang workers” in Los Angeles.  They demonstrate that it is indeed possible to fool others, even in cases in which exacting mechanisms to detect precisely such duplicity are in place.

Funny, He Doesn't Look Like a Monster

Funny, He Doesn't Look Like a Monster

Ryan Jenkins. If you can stand “reality TV” and pop crime, take the case of “Reality TV Star” Ryan Jenkins, who was suspected of murdering his ex-wife, Jasmine Fiore. After a few days of flight and an international manhunt, Jenkins apparently committed suicide by hanging himself in a motel closet. Unless he was doing a David Carradine, this is not a sign of innocence. Flight in and of itself is generally evidence of a guilty mind.

But these bits from the UK’s Telegraph sum up the understandable resistance of Jenkins’s parents to the awful implications of the totality of facts — i.e., that their son was a murderous monster:

Fiore’s dismembered body was found 20 miles southeast of Los Angeles on August 15. Her teeth had been pulled out and her fingers cut off, apparently to impede her identification. Investigators identified her by the serial numbers on her breast implants.

Jenkins’ mother, who lives in Vancouver, refused to accept he killed Fiore. Nada Jenkins said in a brief telephone interview Monday that she’s sure the evidence will eventually prove his innocence.

“He was good, he’s kind and we need to clear his name,” she said, weeping.

Okay, perhaps citing the credulity of grieving parents is not fair.  How about cold-eyed intelligence professionals who are precisely and regularly warned to be on the alert for double agents?  Can they be fooled?

Mon00 Spy Nat KRT

Funny, She Didn't Look Like a Double Agent

Ana Belen Montes. You may have never heard of Ana Montes, but her career as a double agent for the intelligence service of Fidel Castro’s Cuba was breathtaking.  Montes rose to the top of the ranks of the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).  When she was finally taken down, Montes was within hours of receiving a full briefing on the U.S. war plans for the attack on Afghanistan after the 9/11 disaster.  It’s not hard to figure out where that information would have gone if it had got into the hands of the Cubans.  Fairly Civil highly recommends True Believer (Annapolis:  Naval Institute Press, 2007) a slim volume by Scott W. Carmichael, the DIA counter-intelligence officer whose keen suspicions finally brought Montes down.

What is striking is that Carmichael had to work feverishly against the assumptions of Montes’s peers and superiors alike, not to mention the FBI’s Washington Field Office.  They at first refused to believe that a long-term, outstanding career employee like Ana Montes, with no ties to Cuba (her family was Puerto Rican), could be such a treacherous spy.  Sound familiar?

Here are a few salient quotes from the work:

Ana Montes … operated for sixteen years with impunity, becoming the U.S. government’s top intelligence analyst on Cuba at the same time she was reporting to the Cuban government.  She not only passed on U.S. secrets to Cuba but also helped influence what we thought we knew about Cuba. (p. viii.)

Ana’s supervisors at the DOJ [her previous employer] offered glowing recommendations…One called her an absolutely outstanding employee.  Another said she was one of the best employees their office ever had.  She was described as diligent, conscientious, highly productive, creative, and professional in her behavior and attitude. (p. 55)

There was also the matter of her security clearance.  Only 15 percent of Americans prosecuted for espionage during the modern era held the highest level of security clearance when they began spying.  That level is Top Secret clearance with access to sensitive compartmented information…That meant she had been screened, vetted, investigated, and judged by competent federal authorities to be a responsible U.S. citizen worthy of the government’s trust…[she] routinely accessed a great deal of sensitive compartmented information throughout her normal workday. (p. 41)

I do wish that spies would paint great big glowing, gooey globs on their foreheads for easy identification.  Green ones, perhaps.  It would certainly make my job much easier.  But spies do not do that.  Ana Montes certainly didn’t.  She simply slipped through the fog, never calling attention to herself for a moment.  And so she got away with espionage for a long time.  (p. 155)

Gosheroonie, Kids, FBI Agent David Hanssen Didn't Look Like a Russian Mole

Gosheroonie, Kids, FBI Agent David Hanssen Didn't Look Like a Russian Mole

The shock was so great for Montes’s loyal co-workers and friends that special counselors were brought in to help them work through the emotional trauma, the psychological wounds inflicted by her deep betrayal.  “Their initial reaction to the news was predictable and universal:  shock and disbelief.” (p. 131)

Of course, Ana Montes is not the only such spy eventually winkled out of the country’s most secret enterprises.  For informed summaries of more such stories, go to this link.  But the point here is that cold-blooded double agents — whose work costs the lives of truly loyal and faithful men and women — can evade even the most sophisticated screening and vetting.   The loyal followers of Alex Sanchez, to put it bluntly, have only a rudimentary “vetting” process to rely on.

There is another point worth learning from the Ana Montes case.   She was able not only to steal secrets but to influence the views of the U.S. government about Cuba.  If Alex Sanchez was truly a secret shot-caller, from his perch as saintlike “anti-gang worker” he too was able to influence a vast community’s views about Latino gangs, MS-13 in particular, and gangsters.

Okay, Maybe Hector Marroquin (In  Black) Did Kinda, Sorta Look Like a Double-Dealing Gangster

Okay, Maybe Hector ("Big Weasel") Marroquin (In Black) Did Kinda, Sorta Look Like a Double-Dealing Gangster

Hector Marroquin. Finally, there is the precedent of the case of Hector Marroquin, in outline an analog of the Sanchez case.  “Big Weasel” Marroquin represented himself as a “reformed” 18th Street gangster, successfully milking the city of “gang intervention and prevention funding.”

Here is a summary from The New York Times, a newspaper of record that actually writes from time to time the details of the peculations (as opposed to the adulation) of Los Angeles’s violent Latino gangsters:

The director of an antigang organization here that sought to reduce gun violence and received $1.5 million from the City of Los Angeles pleaded guilty on Thursday to charges that he sold illegal assault weapons to a federal undercover agent.

Agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives arrested the director, Hector Marroquin, in May after video surveillance showed him selling weapons and silencers to an agent and an informant. The weapons included a MAK-90 and a Ewbank, both semiautomatic assault rifles, and a M-11, a smaller assault weapon that is like an Uzi, said Eric Harmon, who prosecuted the case.

“Here is a guy who represented himself to the city as being a former gang member helping others to get out of gangs,” said Gary Hearnsberger, head of the Hardcore Gang Division of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, “and he is convicted of selling illegal weapons as a side business.”

Mr. Marroquin, 51, pleaded guilty to three counts of possessing and selling assault weapons and was sentenced to eight years in prison. His companion, Sylvia Arellano, 26, was named as an accomplice in the sales and also pleaded guilty. She is to be sentenced on Tuesday to four years in prison.

Rebecca Cathcart, “Director of Antigang Group Sold Illegal Assault Weapons,” The New York Times, January 19, 2008.

This is the cue for an acolyte of Sanchez to exclaim to the Los Angeles Times, “Wait a minute!  I knew Hector Marroquin, and Alex Sanchez is no Hector Marroquin.”

Possibly.

That’s why we have criminal trials.

Here is my very favorite observation on Marroquin, from the authoritative blog “In the Hat,” summing up the effect of “Big Weasel” Marroquin’s post-reformation career (go to the link for more detail about the “Big Weasel”):

Marroquin has basically been shoved down the throats of gang cops by their commanders for years as a person they should work with to quell gang violence and divert young people from the life.

Is any of this sounding familiar?

  1. Tom,

    I understand your attempt to address the facts, all be it from a perspective that does not include hard knowledge of any of your observations about gang life. It is somewhat laughable your ignorance at times. I did get a kick out of your photos of Bush flashing the horns. But you too often compare apples to oranges. Sometimes it’s hard to take you seriously. First of all there is a difference between “renouncing” membership to a gang, and going “inactive.” This is a very important subtlety which protects the life of the gang member who wishes to “go straight”, turn his life around, create opportunities to protect and feed his family without going back to prison or being murdered. He cannot renounce the gang, as one might defect from Cuba and renounce Fidel and communism in front of the Cuban American Foundation publicity train. A gang member, sadly, once initiated is always part of the gang until death. Even tattoo removal without permission can get a gang member killed by his own set. Going in-active is a life long process of leaving criminal activity behind, with the permission of the gang, yet still honoring the love you professed for your homies when you joined at 15. In other words, you will not report past crimes to the police, nor attempt to protect them from retribution. An inactive gang member to some degree becomes a civilian again. Though it does make him vulnerable to former enemies trying to score points by killing a so-called or supposed drop out. That’s why one can never renounce their gang; that gang is responsible for making it clear to the neighborhood, including enemies, that the inactive member is trying to go straight, and he is off limits. Of course, if that gang member reverts to criminal activity, then the green light is on, because he broke his word.

    You seem to assume, like the FBI, that flashing gang signs is a crime. You assume that being part of a gang is a crime. The KKK is a gang. But being a member of the KKK is not a crime. There are so many nuances, despite your supposed knowledge of the facts, or transcripts of the wiretaps, that you have missed or neglected. Alex had been an inactive gang member since 1996 or 1997. He did not renounce MS-13. He renounced a life of crime. BIG DIFFERENCE.

    As a gang interventionist, your job is to be in constant contact with gang members. You need to know what is going on so you can make informed choices on how to prevent death. Alex worked with the police on many occasions to avert unnecessary death. Whether the LAPD responded to his advice is another story. However, Lacinos ad other rivals in and outside of MS-13 were often suspicious of this role Alex played. THEY DID NOT UNDERSTAND IT. I am not a blind follower of Alex, however I do know that his life was threatened by Lacinos, as much is clear in the transcripts. I have full faith that Alex did not order Lacinos death. Alex does not have that power. And any reverence Alex received in these phone calls was due to his experience, his fame, and his “realness”. He was not a jeckle and hyde monster you paint him out to be. He was a human being. One who was growing into a community leader while still trying to maintain faith in his mission on the streets without betraying anyone. Alex saved many lives. But you wouldn’t know that because you don’t know him or the people affected by hims since he started Homies Unidos. The stereotypical representations you choose to use in this blog denigrate the Latino community. You make us all out to be monsters. You do not show compassion, nor do you show positive images of transformation. You only seek to show negative opinions and representations. But in the end, we are a resilient culture and we will beat the stereotypes.

  2. Paul Flores wrote:
    “Alex does not have that power”

    Now everyone’s an expert! Who gave you the right to speak with such authority on gang rules? Like gangsters and cops would like to think, there is no hard and fast, sum-zero rule book on any one gang.

    Don’t be so arrogant!

    • Someone has to speak up against this bigotry, and violent misrepresentation of the Latino community. I am speaking from what I know. If you want to call me arrogant, go for it. Most of Tom’s work represents the perspective of law enforcement, anyway; not of the human beings, families or misled minds engaged in gang life.

  3. Tom,
    In your section “HOW COULD THIS BE?” you forgot to include a certain cop who infiltrated the Brown Berets.

  4. First of all, not ONE SINGLE INDIVIDUAL, neither Tom Diaz nor Alex Sanchez, represent the Latino community. That’s about as far-fetched as calling Alex Sanchez a political prisoner, or Dick Cheney a “compassionate conservative”.

    My comment to you was to your assertion that “Alex does not have that power”, which I took to mean the power to order a hit on a fellow gang member. I am questioning what makes you think you know such things? Careful now! You might be setting yourself up in the quagmire of a “conspiracy”. People like you think you know, but really you don’t.

    You speak without knowledge and experience.

    Nothing to do with bigotry, or misrepresenation of the Latino community.

  5. Look who’s being arrogant now JUSTICE Lopez. You have no idea what experience I speak from. And
    Alex does represent the Latino community. Whether you like it or not.

  6. Thank you for pointing out the obvious. I do not know what experience you speak of, that is why I QUESTION IT.

    Who knows what “Latino community” you’re talking about. He CERTAINLY does not represent the conscientious, law-abiding, sensible, and proud Latino community I know and love.

  7. Justice J-Lo, I guess some stereotypes will never die, especially ones regarding morons and people with low IQs. You give great reason for them to be relevant. The wise only speak when something needs to be said but the fool only speaks because he needs to be heard. Can we all, after reading comments from Paul and Justice J-Lo, distinguish who would be who? Paul has a very thoughtful, well versed, and convincing message. It is an argument backed by agreed upon common knowledge by most of society when looking at the fraternity that is law enforcement. Their thinking is one, and many times irrational. How the fuck is Alex supposed to make any small change for good within gangs if he wasnt still keeping in contact with them on a homie level, and when presented with the gang sign would you suggest he not throw it up in return. Yes, you would suggest that, along with cops, because a cop wouldn’t throw a gang sign. Thats also why a cop hasn’t been able to make any progress when dealing with gangs either, that’s why men like Alex, thankfully, risk a lot and get involved. But there are some things even as a retired gang memeber, you do and don’t do, if you want to stay on the good side and still get information. One is not disrespecting a member with a request for a sign of family. Would a retired officer not join in with other officers during their cherished drunken cop song because he didn’t put on the badge anymore. No because they would be offended and not look the other way when he drives home drunk later that night. You probably are so overwhelmed with your biased thoughts that I wouldn’t expect you to understand but something had to be said. I’m not a former or current member of the gang known as cops or any other gang so I dont have any biased opinion. I think many cops are great people just trying to make it like the rest of us but so are a lot of their rival gang members. Lack of opportunity can put you in some extreme situations and to say you should act this way when you’ve been on easy Street, never a day in their shoes, is a pretty arrogant and unrealistic approach for the people you judge and have contempt for. Peace.

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